It is fair to say that we all assumed the inclusion of The Pot-Au-Feu in the official selection and in competition this year was purely down to the star power of its lead and to inject a bit of glamour to the festival, just like with Firebrand a few days earlier. The premise made it sound like these "quality" made for TV dull period dramas yet could not have been further from the truth.
Set at the end of the 19th century, The Pot-Au-Feu relates the romance between Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) and Rodin (Benoît Magîmel) whose passion for food was only equalled by the passion for each other. It opens with a thirty minutes scene that instantly set the tone for the rest of the film: in it, Eugénie and Dodin meticulously prepare and serve a feast and it is serene and luminous, so far away from the usual stereotypes of feverish artistic creation and shouty cooking. There is a pervading gentleness to it that carries through the whole running time.
Anh Hung Tran's celebration of food is exquisite and unpretentious. With his patient tone, painterly shots and particularly impressive scenes of nature with the wind whispering through the trees, he approaches the heights of contemplative Asian cinema, indeed as seemingly different as the stories are (although there are some connections), Le Pot-Au-Feu often echoes Hou Hsia-Hsien's The Assassin (1995) in that respect. One of the best creative decision he makes is the barely present score, adding to the tranquility of it all.
It is interesting that it took a French but Vietnamese born director to make a film that celebrates French culture in such an open and respectful way. There is no pretension in the The Pot au Feu, while its characters have some high standard, it all feels very inclusive and part of their time is spent sharing their knowledge and food with others, often accompanied by their servants which they treat like an integral part of their team and equals, even spotting and nurturing bourgeoning talents.
As Dodin, Benoit Magical and Juliette Binoche are outstanding. Formerly in a relationship in real life, the two actors have an incredible chemistry with a passion that feels as strong as the day they met, one filled with mutual understanding, respect and devotion. A scene half-way through the film in which they evoke the summer and autumn of their lives is as devastating as it is tender.
An unexpected gem featuring Juliette Binoche's best part in a long time, Le Pot au feu is a masterful and seductive feast for the senses.
Review by Laurent de Alberti
Star rating: ★★★★★
Official Selection, In Competition.
The Pot au Feu. France 2023. Directed by Anh Hung Tran. Starring Juliette Binoche, Benoît Magimel...